Nea Herakleia Reliquary

The Nea Herakleia Reliquary is exhibited in the Museum of Byzantine Culture, a favorite museum of mine, in Thessaloniki, Greece. http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/4/eh431.jsp?obj_id=4751&mm_id=983

The Reliquary in focus is a small rectangular silver box of hammered silver with a hinged lid. The lid has been badly damaged in several places, but its four decorated sides are in relatively good condition. The Traditio Legis, Christ’s passing of the law to Saints Peter and Paul adorns the front side of the reliquary. The other three sides, inspired by the Old Testament, present three very popular and symbolic scenes, the Three Hebrews, Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Moses receiving the Law. The lid is decorated with a Christogram flanked by the Greek letters α (alpha) and ω (omega) defining the omnipresence of God, the beginning and the end, as α is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and ω its last. The sides of the reliquary’s lid are decorated with a vine scroll with leaves, quite beautifully chiseled, and grapes. https://leipsanothiki.blogspot.com/2014/02/245.html

Kurt Weitzman in his “Age of Spirituality” the introductory essay says that “The transition from the dying classical to the rising and finally triumphant Christian culture was a complex process, extending over several centuries, in which the two coexisted and competed with each other.” He is so right! The Nea Herakleia Reliquary, a relatively unfamiliar example of silverwork, is an amazing example of this extraordinary era. An item of the Christian faith, decorated with New and Old Testament scenes, the Reliquary in focus, is an example of a movement in art, scholars often call the “Theodosian Renaissance.” The artist focused his interest in the depiction of the human body, facial expression, and movement. Very little else matters, with probably the exception of the two Lions flanking Daniel. There are restrictions or exaggerations in corporeality, but modeling is plastic in conception, postures are natural, facial expressions emotional and drapery softly modeled. This is indeed an exceptional work of art worth exploring further. http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/4/eh430.jsp?obj_id=4751

Visiting the Thessaloniki Museum for Byzantine Culture is a true cultural experience. In 1989, the Museum’s architect, Kyriakos Krokos, wrote: “I wanted a space within which movement would create a feeling of freedom, stirring up the senses, and where the exhibit would be a surprise within the movement. I believe that as visitors walk through the Museum Halls there are many pleasant surprises.  The floor and wall mosaics in the first Early Christian Period Room, attract everybody’s attention. The Byzantine tunics with their fine embroideries, the icons and the intricately illuminated manuscript in the Middle Byzantine Period Room are definitely noticed. Finally, as the visitor is about to leave, one last surprise, a beautiful Post-Byzantine golden eikonostasi, one last startling work of art to ponder about. https://mbp.gr/en/building

For the PowerPoint Teacher Curator prepared, please… Click HERE!

Teacher Curator also prepared a student RWAP (Research – Writing – Art -Project)… presented HERE!

Grade 6 student project on the Nea Herakleia Reliquary

The Joshua Roll

The Joshua Roll, 10th century, Tempera and gold on vellum, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Pal. gr. 431, Vatican City

When I think of Byzantine Manuscripts, the first one that comes to my mind is the Joshua Roll… unique, luxurious and remarkable in every aspect… Hellenistic in spirit!

Dated in the 10th century, this Macedonian Renaissance illuminated manuscript comes to us in a very rare format, a Roll… 31 cm high and about 10 meters long, one of the most priceless treasures in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The master artist of the Joshua Roll is unknown, but he definitely belonged to a selected group of Constantinopolitan painters trained in a style much influenced by the classicizing tradition prevailing in the Imperial Court of the time.

The Joshua Roll is dedicated to the Old Testament Book of Joshua. Although incomplete, as it starts with Chapter II and ends with Chapter X, it presents the most important adventures and military accomplishments of the great Israelite figurehead. Joshua was originally Moses’ assistant and after his death, the leader of the Israelite tribes, leading them in conquering the promised land of Canaan. When the Joshua Roll was created, the Byzantines were, after a long period of defence, able to successfully campaign in the Holy Land, enjoying decisive victories. Scholars believe that the illuminated manuscript was meant to glorify the military success of the Byzantine army, and exalt their Emperor.

The Joshua Roll is a very unique Codex, unparalleled and unrivalled in the whole world… yet enigmatic! The Bibliography of the Joshua Roll is extensive and challenging. In 2012 another volume was added – Wander, Steven H. The Joshua Roll. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012. pp. 224. ISBN: 978-389-5008-542 – where information of interest and controversy was added to the already extensive arguments. Wander “dates the manuscript to 961 and connects it to the patronage of the powerful middle Byzantine eunuch, courtier, and illegitimate son of Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Basil the Parakoimomenos (chamberlain) (c. 925-c. 985).” Wander takes his controversial interpretation one step further, he “proposes that the Joshua Roll was the study for a small-scale triumphal column that would have commemorated Basil’s military success in the East during the reign of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959).” His arguments, important and novel, challenge long-standing assumptions. (Wander, Steven H. The Joshua Roll. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012. pp. 224. ISBN: 978-389-5008-542 (hardback) and an interesting review https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/tmr/article/view/20003

…and the Joshua fresco from the Hosios Loukas Monastery
https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/CivilizationHamblin/id/1892/

My favourite assumption is the Roll’s connection to monumental art, and more specifically the art of wall painting. There is a striking connection to a recently discovered fresco in the church of Hosios Loukas in Phocis, and the extraordinary fresco Marian Cycle of the church of Santa Maria Foris Portas a Castelseprio, dazzling its viewers today as it did in 1944 when they were discovered! The similarities between the Joshua Roll illuminations and the Castelseprio frescoes are long-standing, as they are both considered the products of a common artistic tradition. (On Hosios Loukas and the Joshua Roll: Carolyn L. Connor, “Hosios Loukas as a Victory Church,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 33, no. 3 (1992): 293-308, esp. 304-305 and on Castelseprio: Kurt Weitzmann, The Fresco Cycle of S. Maria di Castelseprio, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951)

Santa Maria Di Castelseprio Photos
https://cartesensibili.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/mete-di-viaggio-raffaella-terribile-un-piccolo-scrigno-riscoperto-santa-maria-foris-portas-a-castelseprio/

Coming back to my original statement, the Joshua Roll is… unique, luxurious and remarkable in every aspect and so much so Hellenistic in spirit! The Byzantium I love!

For a Full Digital Fascimile of the Manuscript, please check the site of the Vatican Library: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Pal.gr.431.pt.B

For a Joshua Roll Student Activity… check HERE!

Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, part of a grand Monastery, has many stories to tell…

Tradition has it that the church, the Katholikon of a monastic complex, was originally built during the early 5th century, outside the walls of Constantinople, and its full name was “The Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Fields,” It makes sense. When the city of Constantinople expanded at the time of Theodosius II (408-450), and formidable land walls were built by the Emperor, the monastery retained the name Chora (in the Fields), but became part of the defended city.

Historical evidence tells us that it was Maria Dukaina, the mother-in-law of Alexius I Comnenus, who rebuilt the Chora Church and Monastery around 1077–1081 as a cross- domed church, a popular architectural style of the time. Early in the 12th century, yet another Comnenus, Isaac, the 3rd son of Emperor Alexius, stepped in, restoring the church after a disastrous earthquake.

Two centuries later, around 1316-21, the powerful Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites enlarged the church and embellished it with many fine mosaics and frescoes. Today, the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora stands as one of the finest examples of the Palaeologian Renaissance, in architecture and mosaic-work. Theodoros Metochitis political career was turbulent during the later years of his life: He was exiled by the usurper Emperor Andronicus III in 1328, but two years later, he was allowed to return to the city and live out the last two years of his life as a monk in his beloved Chora Monastery.

Soon after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, the Chora Church was converted into a mosque, named Kariye Camii, serving the city’s Moslem population up until 1958, when it officially opened to the public as a museum, the Kariye Müzesi. Much of what we see today, much of what we know about Chora Church and Monastery is the work of Thomas Whittemore and Paul A. Underwood, from the Byzantine Institute of America and the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, who in 1948, sponsored a restoration and research program.

“Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” Luke 2:10

I can only describe the Chora Church mosaics in general, and the Church’s Nativity scene in particular, as…brilliant,  outstanding, remarkable and exceptional! They best represent the refined taste of Theodore Metochites, a man, passionate about Greek antiquity and obsessed with the ancient Greek idea of ‘grace’ in art. I stand in front of them and I see elegance, harmony and balance in their compositions. I am amazed by the grace, sophistication and spirit of the depicted figures. I feel warmth, as I am enfolded by their divine light. I marvel at their Hellenistic artistic heritage…

Best Wishes for the Holiday Season!!!

ΥΓΕΊΑ ΣΕ ΌΛΟΥΣ

A PowerPoint on the Nativity scene in the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is… HERE!

Hercules and the Lion of Nemea

The 6th to 7th century Constantinopolitan Silversmiths were great masters of their craft. Inspired by Greek Mythology, and stories of the Old or the New Testament, they created unique artworks equally important to their monumental counterparts. The 6th-century silver Plate in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France depicting Hercules and the Lion of Nemea beautifully exemplifies their fine workmanship.

The contest between Hercules and the fierce beast takes a central position, within a typical landscape of the time, simple, yet full of “antique” landscape motives. A bending tree to the right complements the shape of the silver plate, while to the left, a pedestal supporting a vase, balances the composition, adding stability.

Hercules, nude, massive and muscular with a thick neck, a heavy jaw, large eyes and curly hair, is depicted grasping the Lion by the neck, his hands disappearing into the beast’s luxurious mane. He is the undoubted winner of this fierce fight. The Lion is equally massive but succumbs to Hercules’s power. His foreleg, limp and weak, rest on the hero’s thigh, his grimacing face, a picture of exhaustion.

The unknown artist of this silver plate of Hercules and the Lion of Nemea illustrates a well-liked mythological story, popular during antiquity and the Byzantine period that followed. The plate was found in Italy in the Massa-Carrara area of Tuscany in 1771. It is dated ca. 500-600 AD. It was acquired by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 1890 and is part of its Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques. The Plate was part of the spectacular “Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville” Getty Villa Exhibition of 2014-15.

Bibliography: http://medaillesetantiques.bnf.fr/ws/catalogue/app/collection/record/ark:/12148/c33gbq9kr and https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century?fbclid=IwAR2T7bRUIaYH1cUyXgg-0KuAchuDZdxoNABmimn3TAQDhrC1x3V5Ys8Jcnk …pages 162-163

For a PowerPoint the Hercules and the Lion of Nemea, please… click HERE!

Student Activities on the Silver Plate of Hercules and the Lion of Nemea are… HERE!

The Jasper Cup from Vatopedi

The Jasper Cup from Vatopedi is one of the most famous Late Byzantine works of art. It is a Chalice of silver-work and stone-carving, a rare example of refined craftsmanship, one of the finest pieces of the Palaeologan period. It belonged to Manuel Cantacuzenos Palaeologos (1349-80), Despot of Mystra, son of Emperor John VI Cantacuzenos (1347-54) and grandson of Theodore Palaeologus, Despot of Mystra.

The Cup, carved out of a piece of jasper, was created in a Byzantine workshop, in the shape of an antique broad-lipped wine-cup. The inscription on its rim reads “and he gave it to his disciples and apostles saying, drink of this, all of you …”. As this is the prayer from the Eucharist, as given in the Liturgy of St Basil, the Vatopedi Chalice was used as an ecclesiastical vessel.

The base is octagonal, its eight sections decorated with medallions containing, alternately, cruciform monograms and half-length hierarchs holding open scrolls. The monograms identify the owner of the vessel: M (Manuel), Δ (Despot), Κ (Cantacuzenos), Π (Palaeologus). For a more detailed presentation of the Chalice, please check: https://www.elpenor.org/athos/en/e218ci14.asp

The metalwork decoration, following byzantine models, intriguing techniques, and borrowed Gothic motifs, proves that a “Byzantine-Gothic” marriage of styles can create exquisite results.

For a PowerPoint on Byzantine Chalices, please… Check HERE!

For the Student Activity, I was inspired by Sarah Stone’s Work on “Byzantine Chalices”. I showed the students her work http://www.sarah-stone.net/byzantine-paintings.html and HERE! is what my Grade 4 students created!!!

Byzantine Chalices, inspired by The Jasper Cup of Vatopedi and Sarah Stone’s Byzantine Paintings

The Art of Portraiture during the Byzantine Period

The Art of Portraiture during the Byzantine Period is an interesting topic to explore! Portraits have been a popular subject among artists and patrons throughout the ages. From ancient Egyptian renderings on Tomb walls at Saqqara, in Egypt, to Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits and the abstracted works of Pablo Picasso, artists have depicted all kinds of portraits and in a wide variety of ways.

For Byzantine Art, the representation of the human face is important, yet very specific rules need to be followed, so as to depict it correctly. Byzantine Portraits embody a spiritual presence and the eyes play the role of the protagonist! Thus, eyes are affectionately called … the windows of the soul!

“The Art of Portraiture during the Byzantine Period” is an Activity I use in my Grade 7 Art History Class on Byzantium. Students enjoy comparing the three different portraits, discussing similarities and differences and thus, drawing conclusions.

Living in Thessaloniki, Greece, a city with 15 Byzantine UNESCO Monuments of Cultural Heritage, exploring the Art of the Byzantine Period is imperative!!!

https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/456

Student Activity

This is a Project that requires four parts: 1. A nicely written title 2.      Colored copies of the three Byzantine Portraits, correctly identified 3. Answers to assigned Questions 4. An Art Project

For more on “The Art of Portraiture during the Byzantine Period” Activity… Click HERE!